IndyCar team owner signs Lights champion Tristan Vautier to form two-car lineup alongside Simon Pagenaud
You don't have to field a multi-car program to succeed in the IZOD IndyCar Series.
Sam Schmidt knows this, because his single-car effort last season managed to become Honda's No. 2 team behind the Chip Ganassi Racing juggernaut thanks to a fifth-place effort in the standings from its driver (and Rookie of the Year), Simon Pagenaud.
But Schmidt, a former IndyCar driver himself, had visions of expanding his operation for some time, and he believes it's the way for his team to go even further than it did in 2012.
"We kind of made a decision three or four months ago to really push hard and try to get to a two-car team, whether it be for data collection or chemistry or growing the organization — any number of reasons," he said during an INDYCAR teleconference on Tuesday.
"It's becoming apparent if you're really going to compete week in and week out with what is the foundation of the IndyCar Series — whether it be Andretti [Autosport], Ganassi — you pretty much have to be a two-car team."
Enter Tristan Vautier, the reigning Firestone Indy Lights champion that has been setting the Mazda Road to Indy on fire in recent seasons. Across his championship runs in both Star Mazda (2011) and FIL (2012), he claimed eight victories and 21 top-five finishes in 23 combined starts.
Now, after testing for Schmidt's operation late last year (now known as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with the addition of new co-owner and former Toyota Atlantics racer Ric Peterson), Vautier will get his big shot in a second SPM IndyCar program alongside Pagenaud.
"I was in discussions with Sam since the end of the season, but things got more serious after the test that I had," said Vautier. "I have been really wanting that opportunity. I wanted to stay with Sam, to step up to the big cars. It's a great day today for me to announce this news."
Vautier has certainly earned his ticket to the top open-wheel series in North America, but while he'll be counted on to perform, he knows that he has a learning process to go through first. The good news for him is that he's entering into a solid group from the outset.
As for his new teammate and fellow Frenchman, Pagenaud believes that Vautier has enough talent to not need many pep talks from him.
"I don't think I have any advice to give [Vautier]," said Pagenaud. "I'm really glad he's joining us in the team…I think Tristan knows exactly what to do. Obviously, there's a few things he hasn't done like pit stops and things like that that he's going to have to learn. But he's a quick learner, a quick Frenchman, as well."
Pagenaud also echoed Schmidt's belief in a multi-car program being better suited to face the likes of the "Big Three" — the aforementioned Andretti and Ganassi camps, as well as Team Penske.
"I think everybody on the team is very excited also to get bigger and to work together and try to go fight with the big guys," the Champ Car veteran said. "We've already done that quite a bit last year, but now we can say we have everything we need, all the tools, resources, to go out and do the best we can."
The File: Tristan Vautier
DOB: Aug. 22, 1989
Hometown: Corenc, France
Resides In: St. Petersburg, Florida
Major Accomplishments: 2012 Firestone Indy Lights Champion, 2011 Star Mazda Champion
American Open-wheel Wins: 10 (6 in Star Mazda, 4 in Firestone Indy Lights)
Also Raced In: Formula Two, Formula Renault